(CN) – A Republican candidate for Florida governor sued the Fox News Network and party officials on Thursday for leaving him out of a debate.
Bruce Nathan, a physical therapist, filed the federal lawsuit in Ocala, Florida hours before the scheduled debate on Thursday night.
The candidate claims the Republican Party of Florida and the Republican National Committee conspired with Fox News to exclude “non-establishment outsider candidates.” By not allowing him to debate, Nathan says, the network and party officials are depriving him of his First Amendment rights and violating the Federal Communications Act, which requires equal time for qualified candidates.
Nathan also names the Florida Department of State’s elections division in the complaint.
Nathan will face seven other Republicans in Florida’s Republican Party primary on August 28.
Two candidates, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Ron DeSantis, garner the majority of media attention. Putnam has raised the most money and enjoys good name recognition in the state. DeSantis holds the endorsement of Donald Trump and frequently appears on Fox News.
As with many news organizations, Fox News uses polling numbers to determine who will appear in a debate. Nathan argues only candidates with huge campaign war chests can participate in the democratic process, because money spent on political ads translates into better polling.
Republican Party officials’ refusal to advocate for all candidates only perpetuates the undemocratic cycle, Nathan claims.
“At its core, this case is about exclusion of candidates that have officially qualified with the state of Florida to be on the ballot, equating to ‘pay-to-play,’ a form of illegal discrimination, favoring the heavily bankrolled priviledged few and ‘anointed’ party establishment candidates, over those candidates without access to significant capital,” the complaint states.
Fox News and Republican Party officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A June 21 Fox News Poll placed Putnam at 32 percent support to DeSantis’ 17 percent. Nathan garnered 1 percent. Most Republicans, however, are undecided.
In his lawsuit, Nathan cites a June 20 Gravis poll showing him at 13 percent.
Although Trump supports DeSantis, Nathan’s supporters have taken to calling him the “Donald Trump of Florida.” The candidate’s campaign slogan is “Make Florida Great Again” and he frequently touts his outsider image. He’s taken conservative stances on illegal immigration and “sanctuary cities,” but also supports more liberal causes like legalizing marijuana and lowering the prison recidivism rate. An army veteran, Nathan wants to turn the governor’s mansion into a treatment center for military veterans.
Nathan, represented by attorney, Christopher Hallett, did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
This isn’t Nathan’s first time trying to enter a debate. In 2016, Nathan, encircled by armed security guards, attempted to crash a debate on a college campus between Sen. Marco Rubio and his challenger Patrick Murphy, according to the Miami Herald.
University police stopped the then-Independent candidate and his entourage and kicked them off campus grounds.